Michael Mahoney is the UK’s most respected expert on the use of clinical hypnotherapy with IBS patients. He is also the man behind the home hypnosis program the IBS Audio Program 100, which has helped a huge number of IBS sufferers.Thanks for talking to us Michael!
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
In being invited to write about my work and background, I was not only flattered, but I wondered what readers would want to learn about me. I suspected they would wonder how on earth anyone would come about treating such a condition as irritable bowel syndrome in the first place. Well, to be honest, I was asked to look into treating patients with the condition by the gastroenterologists in my medical centre here in Cheshire, England, who had given up all hope of helping them. These doctors called their IBS patients their “heart-sinks” because every treatment that could be done was done, but to little or no avail. So they came to me.
Did you know much about IBS at that stage?
I had to learn about IBS from scratch, and did so, not only through my professional studies but by interviewing patient after patient and learning about their fears, anxieties, horrible episodes of “emergency” diarrhea, panic attacks for the loo, and public accidents of untold embarrassment. I learned about the heartache and frustration of a patient population that had little or no recourse for relief. As a clinical hypnotherapist, I knew that other medical conditions could be treated through this modality, with results running the range of alleviation of a given condition to full recovery. But IBS was a new one, and I was determined to help these patients because their suffering was indeed affecting their quality of life.
What exactly is clinical hypnotherapy, and how does it work?
Some readers, perhaps unaware of the many studies over the past 20 years using clinical hypnotherapy as a medical treatment, may have visions of watches swinging and people clucking like chickens. Clinical hypnotherapy uses the person’s own internal resources to bring about symptom reduction and a path towards healing. As humans, we are in and out of this state throughout the day, as it is merely a common state of concentration similar to being very focused – for example, driving home on “auto-pilot” as we sometimes do. Even while hypnotized, the patient, not the therapist, remains in full control. Hypnotherapy induces a state of relaxation while the patient is awake, and allows helpful suggestions such as those aimed at controlling health problems to be directed into the subconscious mind. It is a natural, normal state, and I have been privileged to help people with many problems through this treatment method for nearly 20 years.
When did you begin to use your skills with IBS patients?
In 1991, I began working with referred IBS patients at no charge, since I was learning about them and their needs. I spent nearly two years researching IBS. I developed specific IBS hypnotherapy processes for the treatment, incorporating ongoing feedback from the patients while providing my own funding for research and development. When word got out that IBS patients were actually receiving successful treatment, I had people travel long distances to obtain therapy from me; some of them were coming 100 miles or more. Many IBS patients were too sick to easily travel, however, and had a great fear of not being near the bathroom, or they were afraid of having a bowel accident on the way; for them, coming to see me posed a problem. Today, when people ask what kept me working on my IBS program, even when faced with strapped finances and professional peer review, I could only think of those first patients and their desperation. That will be remembered for the rest of my life.
Why were the patients so desperate for help?
Sadly, many (if not most) of the IBS sufferers I saw had to deal with doctors who did not recognize or fully appreciate the emotional impact of IBS – for IBS is far from a purely physical condition. Many readers will be all too familiar with the emotional toll IBS can take, including anxiety, weepiness, some depression, resignation, and disheartenment. I well understood the frustration, fear, and pain that the IBS patient suffers. I also know first-hand the anger that can come from being dismissed by physicians who don’t feel that IBS is a “real” condition that causes real suffering, and who simply refuse to listen to those who offer new avenues of help. Patients often reported that dismissal of their concerns served only to make both their emotional and physical symptoms even worse. IBS needs an empathetic approach. Just dealing with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome is not enough; the individual has to learn to rebuild internal energy. After years of pain, and being told by various medical professionals that there is nothing that can be done, many sufferers feel emotionally drained.
Is it important to address the emotional as well as physical effects of IBS?
In the IBS Audio Program introduction I explain about our ‘emotional pot of energy’ and our ‘emotional reserves’ and how these have to be attended to, in addition to the physical aspects of the condition. Without the emotional will and strength to seek and persevere in finding a solution, recovery is often difficult. This ‘emotional energy’ has to be recognized, replenished and managed. To move into recovery we have to work at feeling better, learn new ways of coping, and become familiar with the new positive feelings and thoughts. It is then that we are taking part in our healing. I’ve also found many IBS patients have to deal not only with dismissive doctors, but with family members and those in their lives who more or less disregard their problem. They’ll be accused of “faking” it, or told to just “quit obsessing about it”, or given some similar off-hand cutting remark. I felt that this was another area to be addressed, so I created a recording called the “IBS Companion” that speaks of the humiliations, fears, medical evaluation embarrassments and ordeals that an IBS patient must go through, and how the family can help the patient, rather than add to their distressing situation. One of my patients, upon listening to this recording, told me that she cried, as it was the first time she felt validated as a real human being by someone who understood her condition and its impact on her world. IBS had cost her a good deal of her life, and the recording was the first time she felt real empathy.
How did you develop the IBS Audio Program 100?
By mid 1997, I incorporated all the new processes, information, and delivery methods I had learned for IBS hypnotherapy onto audio tapes, so patients who were housebound or far away would no longer have to travel. These recorded sessions are today known as the IBS Audio Program 100 and are recorded onto CDs. My work using clinical hypnotherapy for IBS has now been entered into the Guild of Health Writers Awards/Foundation of Integrated Medicine, and is considered one of “80 excellent examples of integrated medicine in the United Kingdom.” As a member of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology (PCSG), I was invited to speak about my work in London, at the annual scientific meeting of the society, to gastro-interested medical professionals from all over the UK. I’m also a member of the International Functional Brain-Gut Research Group, and founder of the UK Register of IBS Therapists. In March of 2003, I had the honor of being given first place in the UK’s Top Hypnotherapist listing, in the ‘Top Brass’ section of the Business pages of the Independent. This was not only a thrill, but brought me to the realization that my work had gained recognition because it dealt with an enormous patient population that was sorely overlooked and desperately needed help. This was not so much a validation for my work as it was a validation to the sufferers like yourselves.
In summary, what does the IBS Audio Program include?
The IBS Audio Program 100 is a self-hypnosis program for IBS sufferers. The 100-day program consists of three therapeutic session CDs, which contain an introduction and five different hypnotherapy sessions. Sessions vary in duration but the average session lasts 25-35 minutes.The program also includes a bonus fourth CD (the IBS Companion) which explains IBS to non-suffering family and friends. A program booklet provides a symptom checklist, progress log, listening schedule, and essential information for IBS sufferers.
What symptoms can the IBS Audio Program treat?
The program is recommended for all IBS and related symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, urgency, abdominal pain, as well as accompanying anxiety, stress and fear of leaving the house and more – over 20 symptoms are listed on the symptom rating chart included in the program.
How is the program used?
Listeners follow a specific schedule for the sessions on three CDs, listening on a daily basis at a consistent time. Listeners can fall asleep to the sessions and they are still effective.
Michael, thanks very much for your time.
Many thanks to those of you who have successfully used the IBS Audio Program 100 and have shared your kind words with others who are suffering so deeply with this frustrating condition. And may I also extend many thanks to you and all of your readers for letting me share a bit about my program and my work. I wish you all health, many blessings and joy!
How did you begin writing Romance, Riches and Restrooms?
Well, interestingly enough, when I started writing about my IBS, I had no intention of ever writing any kind of a book, let alone publishing a personally revealing memoir about my absurdly off-color misadventures with my – gasp – irritable bowels! The book actually grew out of a series of personal journal “rants” that I used to frantically scribble down whenever I found myself in particularly harrowing IBS predicaments. If you want to get real specific, this book was officially “conceived” on a crowded runway at DenverInternationalAirport. I was trapped in a middle seat with an urgent need to use the lavatory when the pilot announced that our plane was currently number 17 in line for takeoff. Well, that unwelcome news just threw my urgency, anxiety, and panic into overdrive. How was I possibly going to avoid having an accident right there in my seat? The only way I knew how to cope was to try to distract (and amuse) myself by picking up a pen and a notebook and start writing about what I was going through. A few years later, when I ended up losing my job, I thought, hey, tens of millions of people suffer from IBS, but nobody has ever published a memoir about it. Hmmm… why not take all the material I’ve written and give it a shot?
What reaction did your friends and family have when you told them you were going to write a book?
I would say that everybody was very supportive – at least outwardly. But I could tell that they were also concerned about me and more than a little skeptical, too. In their eyes, suddenly announcing that I would become a writer – something I had NO experience with – came as a bit out of left field. But telling them about the book also meant opening up about the fact that I had IBS. And of course, once they digested that startling revelation, the next logical question was, “How in the world are you going to write a whole book about having to go to the bathroom?” Even though everyone really seemed to like the early chapter drafts I shared with them, they still had a tough time envisioning the finished product.
Did you ever have second thoughts about writing a memoir about something so personal?
Are you kidding? Over the last couple of years, I’ve literally woken up hundreds of times at three in the morning in a cold sweat. All of a sudden, I would jump up out of bed and wonder to myself, “Why the hell am I writing a book about my IBS? This could be a BIG, BIG mistake. Have I completely lost my mind? Don’t do it. Just don’t do it. Call the whole thing off.”
I’m totally serious. I questioned the wisdom of this project all the time. Thankfully, by the time I woke up in the morning with a clear head and reminded myself why I started writing this book in the first place, those fears would disappear – at least until three in the morning the next night…
You went to great lengths to hide your bathroom habits before you even knew what IBS was.If you could go back, would you change anything?
Absolutely. Coping with my symptoms and my bathroom habits by hiding them definitely exacerbated my IBS and, in hindsight, was probably the worst thing I could have done. I spent a lot of time wondering how my life would have turned out if I had adopted a different coping strategy early on. So, yeah, if I could go back, I would definitely have been MUCH less embarrassed and MUCH more forthcoming about what I was going through. Specifically, I would tell my bosses the real reasons I cancelled some of those flights and sales meetings; I would tell my girlfriends the real reasons I was scared to risk getting stuck in rush-hour traffic on the BayBridge. Without a doubt, hiding everything only made it all worse.
Over the years you’ve encountered some people who seem unsympathetic to the challenges you faced because of IBS.Is your reaction to those people different than it was before?
Thankfully, those unsympathetic types really are the exception rather than the rule. And because most people have been so cool about my IBS, I don’t really spend too much time thinking about the unsympathetic ones. But, yeah, I think my attitude has changed over the years toward them. These days I’m much more inclined to chalk up their callous attitudes to ignorance. I don’t mean that as an insult – they just have no idea what we go through. I want to believe that if they really knew what it was like to live with IBS, then their attitudes would be much more supportive. And that’s really one of the main reasons I wrote this book, to raise awareness (albeit through humor) for IBS by showing the world what millions of us go through but rarely talk about.
In one chapter, you say your ideal date is to stay in, eat pizza and watch a movie.Is that still true today?
No, that’s definitely not the case anymore. Thank god! Now I’m not saying I would spontaneously jet off to Thailand or Costa Rica for a romantic getaway on the spur of the moment, but these days I really do love getting out of the house to try new restaurants, check out new bars, and catch an occasional movie at the theater. Getting out of the house and into the real world is just so much more fun and exciting than sitting on my couch with a pizza every night. Besides, in the Philadelphia suburbs the pizza absolutely sucks!
What is life like now that you have come out of the “water closet”?
As you know, this is a topic that not everybody is comfortable talking about, and I was more than a little concerned about how this kind of universal disclosure was going to impact my life. But honestly, I can’t even begin to describe how much better my life has become, and how much happier and relaxed I’ve become, since coming out of the “water closet.” The biggest change these days is that I don’t spend any time or energy hiding my IBS, which I personally think can be just as exhausting and draining as the physical symptoms themselves.
There’s something about talking openly and matter-of-factly about this condition that is unbelievably liberating. And here’s the funny thing; even though I occasionally stumble across someone who’s not all that cool with me talking about IBS, I found that the vast majority of people are far more understanding and sympathetic than I ever would have imagined.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from having IBS?
Boy, if I had to boil it all down to one lesson, it would have to be this: Embarrassment and fear should never keep you from being true to yourself or stop you from chasing your dreams and living life on your terms. My biggest regret is that it took me so long to learn this lesson for myself.
By now, most people who know you well and even people meeting you for the first time know you have IBS. How has your life changed because of this?
All for the better. For example, I’ve been going on a lot of job interviews in the past few months. Like it or not, there’s no way I can hide the fact that I wrote a tell-all memoir about how my IBS ruined my career, my relationships, etc. So now that I’m in a position where I have no choice – I have to tell them all about it. And I do. Not only are my “IBS author” credentials highlighted at the very top of my resume, but I usually open the interviews by opening up my briefcase and sliding a copy of my book across the table to the person who’s thinking about hiring me for a job. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not about to hide who I am or what I’ve gone through in the past, so if they have a problem with it, then I’d rather find that out right away. Obviously I’m not interested in working anyplace where I have to hide my condition and can’t be who I am.
What advice would you give to someone who has IBS that is embarrassed or afraid to talk about it?
First, I’d say that I completely understand their reluctance. Since I hid mine for so long, I would be a total hypocrite if I didn’t. But as someone who has taken that terrifying leap of faith off the cliff and lived (quite happily) to tell about it, I would say that a much more enjoyable life will eventually be waiting for them on the other side of that embarrassment. Like I said, not everybody is going to be cool with learning that you have IBS, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that the vast majority of people will be incredibly sympathetic and understanding with respect to what you’re going through. In my opinion, you can also diffuse the tension enormously if you approach your “confession” in a straight-forward or even humorous way.
And if that’s not persuasive enough, check this out. A few years ago, when I was living in San Francisco and dating like a total madman, I came up with what I thought was an ingenious strategy for breaking things off with the women I wasn’t particularly interested in. All I had to do, I figured, was tell them all about my IBS, the restrictions it placed on my daily lifestyle, and that I was hoping to become the IBS poster boy by publishing a book about my sordid misadventures. It was literally foolproof. Surely that revelation would send any woman running for the hills, wouldn’t it? Well, a funny thing happened – and not just once, but dozens of times: None of them cared one bit! How ironic that the one thing that I’d been so scared of admitting to women turned out to be something that they really didn’t care about one way or another. In fact, if anything, most all of them said they respected me more for opening up to them and sharing something so intimate. Go figure!
If you were in charge of re-naming “Irritable Bowel Syndrome”, what would you call it?
Now that is a great question. Let’s face it, the name ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome’ just sucks. What other medical condition has such a graphically descriptive and personally degrading title? Unlike Crohn’s, Colitis, and Diverticulitis, which all have a very ambiguous yet somehow official and clinical ring to them, Irritable Bowel Syndrome really leaves nothing to the imagination, does it? I think the word ‘bowel’ is what really has to go.
Hmmm….let’s see…I’ll have to give this one more thought, but maybe something along the lines of ‘Exaggerated Motility Disorder’ or ‘Perpetual Motility Syndrome.’ Wait, no, take that last one back. I think having guys walking around complaining about their PMS would be way too confusing for everybody, not to mention disastrous for their dating lives.
Which is harder: Living with IBS or writing a book about living with IBS?
Oh, that’s an easy one. Living with IBS is much, much tougher than writing about it. Hands down! Creating the book – although it was hard work in many respects – really was by far the most enjoyable, fun, and thoroughly cathartic project I’ve ever been involved with. Overall, I honestly had a blast putting my story on paper. But dealing with all the rejection letters from agents, publishers, etc, well that’s an entirely different matter.
What do you hope readers will come away with after reading Romance, Riches, and Restrooms?
Most importantly, I want readers to laugh and be entertained. As far as I’m concerned, the more they laugh (preferably out-loud), the better. I can’t think of a better reaction.
In terms of more serious takeaways, I hope that IBS sufferers to come away feeling reassured that they’re not alone with their symptoms or the serious impact that this often-invisible condition can have on so many aspects of their lives. Ultimately, as pompous as this might sound, I’d love to think that reading about my story would encourage other people to also come out of the closet and start talking more openly about their IBS, not to be so ashamed or embarrassed about having to live with what is now indisputably a legitimate medical condition.
But I also wrote this book for people who DON’T have IBS. I think it’s important for the rest of the world to see exactly what we’re going through and to understand the unique (and often invisible) challenges we face everyday.
- Denise Cefai
- I am in the middle of reading Tim’s book at present and I have to say I feel like he’s my mate, it’s like I’ve found a person who mirrors my exact hell and understands totally what I’m going through. I’m 35 years old and have suffered this evil curse for 20 years. Unfortunately I suffer the classic systoms as Tim describes in his book and have many, many times been caught in a terrifying situation. Travelling to work, travelling anywhere or even being in a busy location with only few toilets panics me. I would really like to know how does Tim cope now with his IBS, how he controls it. I personally OD on Immodium but I do find that even on a really bad day, not even Immodium can help me. However, I do find humour is the best way your mind can cope, because this has almost driven me to despair when I would rather lock myself in my home then venture outside and risk playing my own version of fear factor. I hope they find a “wonder drug” for this.
- About Me
- Hi! I'm Nicole and I am 25 years old. I've had Irritable Bowel Syndrome since I was 19, but was diagnosed when I was 23. I currently live and work in Portland, Oregon. Thanks for visiting my site!